Reminder: GM Is Killing It In Low-Cost EVs

People look at a Wuling Hong Guang Mini EV during the 19th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition in Shanghai on April 20, 2021. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
People look at a Wuling Hong Guang Mini EV during the 19th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition in Shanghai on April 20, 2021. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)

GM made just the right car, at just the right price, with just enough range, in just the right place, at just the right time. It’s just not in America. All that and more in The Morning Shift for June 7, 2021.

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1st Gear: GM Has A Hit In China

I will stop talking about the Hong Guan Mini EV when the Hong Guan Mini EV stops being so utterly fascinating to me. The SAIC-GM-Wuling joint venture has an absolute hit on its hands, with the Mini becoming the best-selling EV in China, thanks in large part to a starting price of around $4,500.

There is a lot more to the charm and success of this car, which offers just what consumers want and nothing they don’t, as Bloomberg details in a recent report on the car:

The Hong Guang Mini is the brainchild of SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co., a joint venture between SAIC Motor Corp. and Guangxi Automobile Group Co., two state-backed automakers, and U.S. giant General Motors Co.

Based in the city of Liuzhou, known for its limestone mountains and river-snail soup, the company – which has sold some 270,000 of the cars within nine months, making it the best-selling EV in China – has even bigger ambitions for the future. It’s aiming for annual sales of 1.2 million vehicles next year, almost equal to the number of EVs churned out by China’s carmakers in 2020 combined.

[...]

Wuling’s success with the Hong Guang Mini was driven by a targeted marketing campaign conducted almost entirely online, according to [Wuling’s head of branding and marketing, Zhang Yiqin]. His team often communicate with consumers directly via various social media platforms, and it was a customer’s request for more hues that saw the company come up with Hongguang Mini’s latest iteration – the Macaron. It comes in avocado green, lemon yellow and white peach pink, with an optional solid-color roof for contrast, to mimic the vanilla butter cream that sandwiches the French meringue confections of the same name.

It’s also how they landed on one of the car’s key selling points – besides its rock-bottom price point: Hong Guang Mini drivers are able to customize their vehicles in a way that’s not possible elsewhere.

Using “stickers,” the car’s panels and body can be transformed. Some sport the Nike swoosh, some have galaxy-like outer space scenes and others cartoon characters from Hello Kitty and Doraemon. The original Hong Guang Mini comes in around 20 different base colors, which can be switched up, and buyers can customize the interior as well.

Bloomberg has even more about the Hong Guan Mini EV, speaking with buyers of the car so small that it runs 12-inch wheels. It’s just a testament to GM being fully capable of making a hit EV, filling a niche not met by other makers. Why GM seems to be a follower and not a leader here in the U.S. is something more of a puzzle.

2nd Gear: It’s Going To Be Hard To Get Enough Raw Materials For Our EV Push

We’ve been writing a lot about the Biden Administration’s big transportation, infrastructure, charging, and EV manufacturing push, but a new small detail turned up by Reuters has caught my eye:

President Joe Biden’s strategy to make the United States a powerhouse in electric vehicles will include boosting domestic recycling of batteries to reuse lithium and other metals, according to government officials.

[...]

Securing enough cobalt, lithium and other raw materials to make EV batteries is a major obstacle, with domestic mines facing extensive regulatory hurdles and environmental opposition.

Reuters reported on May 25 that Biden plans to rely on mines in ally countries to supply much of the metals needed to build EVs.

The administration’s options to spur domestic recycling include direct investment in projects and scientific research, as well as spending funds approved by Congress.

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As we start trying to pull more lithium out of American soil, more and more Americans are going to realize that, well, lithium mining sucks for everyone around it. As a country, we’ve sort of been able to gloss over that when it’s happening in another hemisphere in Chile, but we won’t be able to when it’s in our own backyard. There is going to be a lot of drama about what is or is not environmentally friendly about EVs.

I suspect that the government will try harder and harder to promote electric cars with language around “American ingenuity” and job creation and less about the environment, but we might see a tighter split between “environment” and “climate” in convincing us it’s good to throw away gas and pivot to lithium.

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3rd Gear: Everybody’s Buying Cars

With the used car market absolutely out of control, the new car market is starting to look slightly more sane by comparison, chip shortages and all. At least, that’s how it must look to some people. I myself know two people who have gone in on brand-new cars in the past few weeks, and they’re not alone, as Automotive News reports:

U.S. auto sales roared in May compared with a year earlier, when the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing, giving every sign that Americans are shaking off the global health crisis.

But record-low vehicle inventories — a direct consequence of the pandemic disruption — continued to drag on the industry as consumers struggled to find popular vehicles, including pickups.

Several automakers hit monthly sales records in May. For the seven automakers reporting results for last month, sales rose 37 percent from May 2020. In addition, five of those automakers even beat numbers from May 2019 — a sign that demand is back.

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Nothing will get in between Americans and their new cars.

4th Gear: Dieselgate Nearing End (Dieselgate Will Never End)

An upcoming settlement with one of the titans of Dieselgate-era Volkswagen points toward the eternal drama of emissions cheating coming to an end. Reuters lays out the details:

Volkswagen on Sunday said it had reached the broad outlines of a settlement with former boss Martin Winterkorn over his role in the dieselgate scandal, with the final details to be thrashed out over coming days.

Via the settlement, Volkswagen is trying to turn the page on its biggest ever corporate crisis in which it admitted using illegal software to rig diesel engine tests in the United States. No details were given on the size of the deal.

“In its meeting yesterday, the supervisory board agreed the essential conditions,” a VW spokesperson said in a statement. “The agreements will be concluded in coming days.”

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Dieselgate, of course, will never end, as all car companies will cheat on their emissions test so long as it is cheaper for them to do so than comply.

5th Gear: Tokyo Motor Show Back For 2023

We’re just a few more years away from seeing Toyota march out a four-wheeled egg that it claims will be “the future of mobility” or some shit. We love the Tokyo Motor Show, and we miss it. From Automotive News:

The Tokyo Motor Show will return in 2023, after organizers canceled it this year for the first time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[...]

[Toyota President Akio] Toyoda, speaking in his role as head of the association, a position he has held since 2018, said the show will occur under the banner of “Green and Digital” — a move to showcase the Japanese industry’s push to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

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The ‘91 Tokyo Motor Show was also eco-oriented. Just bring the concept cars of that show back and put them into production, I say.

Reverse: I Have No Idea How This Made It Into Any History Account

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Neutral: What’s Going To Be GM’s First Big Hit EV Here?

Or does the Bolt somehow count?

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

DISCUSSION

teamtestbot
teamtestbot - the David Tracy of Vans

I need to make sure that everyone understands the reason we don’t have things like the Hong Guan Mini is entirely political and social, not technical or economic. It would be literally illegal to build similar low-cost cars here because our transportation laws metastasized in the 1950s to 1960s to center around the full-fledged and full-featured roadgoing private automobiles that we have today. Our laws, and consequently infrastructure built in support of them, have no support for “non-cars” like European quadricycles, Kei cars, Changlis, and similar. They exist only in limited form as a laughing stock and butt of jokes as NEVs and LSVs. We “expect” every car to be nice and luxurious, and spend a lot of time disparaging every “not-car” as inadequate and unsafe. Even on this very website where we should be advocating for all forms of practical transportation.

Chinese e-bikes, e-pedicabs, and Changlis literally put tens of millions of people, if not more, on self-propelled wheels in the past 20 years while we sat here and argued if Teslas were cheaply built or not. The necessity drove the innovation, whereas here in the U.S. we were arguable never actually poor enough post-WWII to warrant looking into beneath-us “third world” solutions for getting around. Sooner or later this will bite us in the ass, whether climate change or the next great economic implosion.

Ninja Edit: I say something similar to this on almost every “Why can’t we have small cheap cars/small cheap EVs like China?” type comment or post because I’ve been an advocate for alternative small-scale private transportation for over a decade, and the things I describe are the part of the prevailing mainstream attitude against them.